Asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis have been known to develop over a period of decades, affecting people years and years since their last exposure. Many studies over the years have suggested that the length of the amount of time that has passed since initial exposure and subsequent symptoms can increase the risk of developing mesothelioma the more time that has passed. A recent study conducted by the Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine has confirmed this to be true: those who had their first exposure to asbestos over 40 years ago are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop mesothelioma than those who were exposed just 5 years ago.
Scientists and researchers evaluated 131 pleural mesothelioma patients and another 655 candidates who were participating in health surveillance program for asbestos-related illnesses as the control group, between 2000 and 2014. Researchers used this data to calculate the odds of developing mesothelioma and found that the further the patient was from their asbestos exposure, the higher the chances of the cancer developing.
Most mesothelioma diagnoses occur 20 to 50 years after initial exposure, but for the scientists and researchers, this study is that it confirms that no matter how much exposure you had, you can still be at risk, even if you have had no contact with asbestos for decades. Asbestos fibers are tiny and sharp, and can become easily embedding in the lungs or in the lining of surrounding tissue. Once the asbestos fibers are embedded, it works its way deeper into the tissue, causing scarring and fibrosis. Asbestos will never “work its way out” of your body – it’s just a matter of if the disease develops.
Asbestos was a common building material in the early to mid-20th century, with use and consumption peaking around WWII. Those exposed during that time period became some of the first to file lawsuits against their employers and asbestos manufacturers in the 1970s; 30 to 40 years after initial exposure. Asbestos use did not decline rapidly until the 1970s, and because of this, nearly 40 odd years later, we are still seeing mesothelioma instances at an alarming rate.
Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States and as of 2015, only 343 tons of asbestos was imported for consumption. The amount of asbestos imported has been steadily decreasing over years, but because of its widespread use, many older buildings and homes built before 1980 are at risk of asbestos contamination and decades from now we will still see victims of asbestos exposure develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
- Swaitkowska, N. Szeszeina-Dabrowski, “Mesothelioma continues to increase even 40 years after exposure – Evidence from long-term epidemiological observation,” Lung Cancer Journal (June 2017). [Link]
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